INDIANAPOLIS – The biggest schools in college sports are about to get a chance to make their own rules.
The NCAA Board of Directors voted 16-2 on Thursday to approve a historic package of changes that allows the five richest football conferences – the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC – to unilaterally change some of the rules that have applied to all Division I schools for years. Representatives from those leagues representing 65 universities will also benefit from a new, weighted voting system on legislation covering the 350 schools in Division I.
The five largest leagues contend they need more flexibility to solve the day’s hottest controversies, including recruiting and health insurance, and complained long and loud over the past two years that they face more scrutiny than everyone else.
If the decision survives a 60-day override period, the transition to the new system could begin in January.
“It does provide degrees of autonomy for the five high-resource conferences,” said Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch, the board chairman and a key architect of the plan. “This is not complete autonomy. We’re still part of Division I, but I think it allows us to provide more benefits to student-athletes.”
A handful of university presidents who spoke at NCAA headquarters after the vote agreed on one thing: Paying athletes to play is off the table. And it’s very unlikely that the five leagues will design their own policies when it comes to infractions.
But there’s a good chance the five leagues will take steps to add money to scholarships or craft an athlete stipend intended to help cover the so-called full cost of attending college – costs beyond tuition, room and board and books and supplies. That will be millions more in spending by leagues that are already partners in multimillion-dollar TV contracts to show off their top sports of football and basketball.
It is certainly a dramatic new start for an organization that has come under increasing criticism.
Already this year, the NCAA has agreed to settle two lawsuits for a combined $90 million and still awaits a judge’s decision on a federal lawsuit in which plaintiffs led by Ed O’Bannon have argued college sports’ amateurism rules are anti-competitive and allow the organization to operate as an illegal cartel. Also pending is a decision by the National Labor Relations Board on whether Northwestern football players can form what would be the first union for college athletes in U.S. history.
While NCAA leaders acknowledge the new system may not quash every legal case or argument, those who helped draft this proposal believe it will give prominent schools greater leeway in addressing the amateurism model and other concerns.